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How we communicate our content

At school, we’re taught how to write ‘properly’. Delete contractions and colloquialisms. Don’t start sentences with ‘and’ or ‘because’. Use longhand instead of abbreviations. Eradicate exclamation marks and quash questions. Don’t address your audience using the first or second person. Avoid emotions. All well and good when communicating research in academic essays or penning a professional email, but, when it comes to marketing, there’s one golden rule.

Ignore your English teacher


The Tone of Your Writing

Once the shock has settled, let’s understand the reasons for this act of written rebellion.

When it comes to choosing the tone of your writing, consider your audience first. Successful writers are chameleons: we adapt our language and grammar to those reading our words. For example, a children’s author uses age-appropriate imagery, more simple vocabulary, and shorter sentences. A news reporter strips back their language to bare the bones of facts and figures while an opinion columnist injects their personality or persona into the piece. Technical or academic writers will follow their English teacher’s advice and the rules of formal language.

For writers of marketing material, the audience is harder to pin down. Mostly, because the audience is nebulous and depends on the product or service you’re selling, and this can change from gig to gig. But, generally, informal writing trumps formality because successful marketing is all about engagement, and what better way to engage your audience then by starting up a conversation?


Tapping into Emotions

Like all aspects of language, marketing material has evolved. Large-scale advertising began at the end of the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, with commodification and increased production. These ads were more informative about the products themselves, offering convincing reasons why consumers should buy them. Descriptions of the products were drawn-out and detailed – about their authenticity, their function, their appearance, and their material. Then, came the creative revolution in the 1960s, that, thanks to increased competition for consumer attention, moved marketing language into the realms of what we see today. Companies understood the value of reaction over reasoning, and the importance of engaging consumer emotions. The need to create an emotional impact drives the more conversational tone of our modern marketing. Now, conversational language is the language of business and the internet.


Conversational Marketing

Why is a conversational style more engaging?

Simply, conversations are an everyday part of human life. We interact via conversations. We convey thoughts and emotions via conversations. We connect via conversations. Interaction, conveyance, and connection are among the key aims of marketing.

A conversational style also grabs and maintains attention, something that is vital in the incredibly crowded marketing world where companies are jumping up and down, waving their hands about, and shouting to be noticed by consumers. Watch any good TED Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks) and you’ll notice the speakers address the audience directly. Direct address includes the audience and taps into their emotions, but it’s also a quick way to grab their attention. When someone is speaking to us, we wake up and listen, particularly in case we have to answer. Rhetorical questions are equally effective – don’t you think?


Direct address goes hand-in-hand with modern forms of marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising of the past was more generic because it was limited to radio or television ads, leaflets, and posters. Now, ads are targeted, and tools exist to reach highly specific audiences. Google and Facebook, as well as other platforms, enable you to adjust your ads to demographic aspects such as gender and age. Our search histories are tracked by cookies to provide data for companies. Marketing tools enable direct address, so language needs to adjust to reflect this.




Formal Writing

Historically, writing was considered a higher form of communication than oral conversation due to reduced literacy rates and access to education. With this came the requirement to write more formally. Now, with the ability to write a more wide-spread skill, formal writing can create a barrier between writer and audience and decrease readership.

Formal writing doesn’t speak to the masses. In some cases, it can create an impression that the writer is talking down to their audience. Jargon or obscure vocabulary particularly builds this barrier. With such an overwhelming amount of marketing and advertising content, audiences need to engage and absorb your content quickly. Achieve this through every day and quick-to-understand language that doesn’t leave your audience thinking too long, slipping into boredom, or reaching for a dictionary. Marketing aims to help a consumer, not make life more difficult by overwhelming them with incomprehensible language.


Enter the Marketing Mix

Marketing that distances itself from the audience is inherently unsuccessful. Remember the need to for emotional engagement? Formal writing, particularly if it pitches the writer on a higher intellectual plane than the reader, can come across as cold, authoritatively telling the reader what to do and buy. Applying rigid language and grammar rules can erase personality and humanity from your writing. Conversational styles that reveal the person behind the words build relationships with the audience, making it easier for them to empathise and relate both to you and the message you’re delivering. People want to do business with people, not robots. Plus, when the audience can connect with a person and not just a product, your marketing material and the story it’s telling becomes more authentic and believable, and therefore more trustworthy. And what’s more vital when selling a product or service than establishing trust with the consumer?

Conversational writing is more user-friendly, but it’s also more fun both for the writer and the reader. As a writer, play around with your language, grammar, and sentence structure. Grammar rules are there to be stretched or broken. Following rules can be boring and repetitive, and this will show in dull and generic writing. Remember, language is flexible and adaptable – you control it, it doesn’t control you.


Write How You (Want to) Talk

Although you should write how you talk, that doesn’t mean you should ramble. Director Alfred Hitchcock described “drama” as “life with the dull bits cut out”. This same rule can be applied to marketing and advertising material.

Write not how you talk, but how you want to talk.

Edit ruthlessly so your sentences are short, sharp, and to the point. Cut waffle and repetition. Use the active not the passive voice. Okay, so there are some rules. Although you’re having a conversation with the reader, it’s still one-way. Unlike a face-to-face conversation, a writer of marketing and advertising material can’t see or adjust to the reader’s reaction in real time. Often, you’ll have a wordcount, or a certain space in which to fit your content if it’s, say, in a website or a poster or a Tweet. So, don’t just word vomit onto the page and consider it job done. You have one chance to engage your reader until they move on to the next ad or piece of copy. Polish your content until it shines.


But how do you write conversationally? Here are some quick tips:

  • Listen to how people speak and absorb that into your writing.
  • Avoid the passive voice, which is clunky and increases word count.
  • Develop your writing voice to inject personality into your piece.
  • Know your audience.
  • Read your writing out loud. If at any point you stumble, change a word, or adjust sentence length or word order for a more natural pace.
  • Use short sentences and paragraph breaks to maintain reader focus.
  • Choose simple words, for example, ‘use’ instead of ‘utilise’, ‘do’ instead of ‘accomplish’, ‘make’ instead of ‘fashion’.
  • Avoid industry-specific jargon.
  • Use the second-person voice.
  • Don’t write to show-off your language skills.
  • Use contractions, for example, ‘I’ll’ instead of ‘I will’.
  • Ask questions.
  • Break the rules!

Language is the ultimate power of marketing and advertising, so you need to get it right. Often, the language is so nuanced and subtle we don’t even notice its influence. Language can make or break a company. And, with so many companies trying to sell products and services, you must be able to stand out. Marketing and advertising are now mostly done online, but many companies forget that the internet is, for consumers, a tangible reality just as much as the people they see and talk to every day. Often, we can spend more time on the internet than we do seeing people and going about in the world. So, using real world language is key.




American novelist Elmore Leonard once said, “if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it”. Interrogate your own content in the same way. Is it too formal? Is it too distancing? Does it lack personality? Does it sound like writing you’d read in a textbook, or does it sound like a conversation you’d have with a friend?

One of the deepest human needs is connection, and marketing and advertisement taps into that. Create conversations, create connections, and you’ll create successful content.